Tenterden - Northiam - Bodiam
General managers Christmas Message 2024

General managers Christmas Message 2024


As the last Santa Train rolled in on Christmas Eve, we wrapped up a season filled with joy and magic. This weekend, I found myself immersed in the enchanting atmosphere of the Wonderland Marquee. It's been a true privilege to witness the consistent reactions of our visitors as they journey from having their photos taken to exploring our model railway and village. Wow, wow, and wow—each step revealing a world of wonder.

Engaging with our visitors, I've had the pleasure of seeing how much they enjoy themselves and, more importantly, how much they value what we do. It's a testament to the magic we create here at KESR.

As we draw the curtain on this year, I'd like to take a moment to reflect on the incredible efforts and achievements of our KESR family during the Santa Specials and throughout the year. The challenges thrown our way by weather conditions and operational complexities were no match for the resilience and dedication that defines our team.

The Santa Specials have become a cherished tradition, and your commitment to making them a success has not gone unnoticed. You've weathered storms, navigated through operational intricacies, and ensured that the magic of the season reached every visitor.

I extend my heartfelt gratitude to each and every one of you for your unwavering dedication. Your efforts have not only made this festive season special for countless families but have also added another chapter to the rich history of KESR.

First Santa Weekend: Triumph Over Challenges

The first full weekend of Santa Specials was met with a light dusting of snow, presenting the first of many challenges. Slippery conditions and the debut of our new salt spreader kept us on our toes, but you faced these hurdles with resilience and determination. Saturday's bitter cold and Sunday's heavy downpours added complexity, yet we managed to deliver a memorable experience for our visitors. Despite unique departmental challenges, your collective ability to adapt and improve shone through.

Exceptional dedication was evident, with many going above and beyond, working long hours with modesty, simply stating, "It's what we do!" The decision to provide a full refund for the last Santa train on Saturday evening was a difficult one but the correct one, ensuring our passengers' expectations were met, enhancing our reputation.

As a learning organisation, the Ops team worked diligently to review the weekend. Minor changes will be implemented to enhance resilience in our operations. Thank you to everyone for your dedication and hard work, bringing joy to countless families.

Second Weekend: Building Resilience and Punctuality

The second weekend brought heavy rain, testing our spirits. Valuable lessons from the previous weekend and the unsung heroes who worked behind the scenes to make improvements were crucial. Strategic changes to locomotive diagrams, adopting a top-and-tail approach, aimed to build resilience into our timetable. While challenges persisted, Sunday ran smoother, proving our collective ability to adapt and improve.

Punctuality is crucial, with implications for visitors, volunteers, and the overall experience. Efficient and effective working in all departments is essential for maintaining high standards. Let's appreciate the interconnectedness of our roles and make a collective effort for punctuality and professionalism.

Third and Fourth Weekend: Everything ran to Plan 


Santa Helps KESR Collect Award for Excellence

Santa took a break from his busy schedule to help us pick up an Event of the Year award for our Santa Specials at the Beautiful South Awards for Excellence. A special thank you to our volunteers who make this event a success!

HRA Awards Shortlist: Celebrating Innovation and Environmental Responsibility

We're thrilled to announce that our Santa Specials' 'Quiet Day' and our 'Looking Inwards and Outwards' environmental initiative have been shortlisted for HRA Awards. These recognitions reflect our commitment to business and customer innovation, as well as environmental responsibility.

Reflecting on the Remarkable Year

This year has been a journey of growth and achievement for KESR. We began with a thorough governance review, as a result we are enhancing the readability and relevance of our policies and procedures. Introducing new policies for neurodiversity and safeguarding showcased our commitment to inclusivity and safety. Hosting a successful Heritage Railway Association RM3 seminar in the South East of England added to our accomplishments.

Looking forward, the development of our 2030 strategy is underway. The extension to Robertsbridge, approved by the Secretary of State on May 9, marks a significant milestone in our future plans.

From crucial winter maintenance projects such as a new crossing at Northiam to the visit of the iconic Bulleid Pacific '257 Squadron,' our narrative unfolded. Junior Engineer days engaged the next generation, emphasising our dedication to STEM education.

COP 28, I believe was a pivotal moment, emphasises the need for heritage railways to transition away from burning fossil fuels. We must seize this opportunity to in future showcase the broader aspects of our railway, from the importance of our working signal and telegraph and its relevance to modern global communication systems to managing a ten-and-a-half-mile nature reserve. A transformative environmental survey, supported by sponsorships, underscores our commitment to nature recovery and biodiversity. We were equally successful in securing grant support for renovating our heritage buildings.

Partnerships flourished, exemplified by successful ventures like cream teas with Fox and Edwards, a resurgence in group bookings, and the introduction of a new kitchen car on the Pullman service, the cascade of Diane to the ‘A’ Set and the return of Petros all Improved our customer offer. The arrival of Pullmans Isle of Thanet and Lydia will provide us with both resilience and new opportunities.

Our year was adorned with awards, progress on significant projects like the GWR Railcar and Ford No 1 diesel, and successful galas. Celebrations during pride month, events like Steampunk weekend, Teddy Bears Picnic, and the Fright Night Train, brought vibrancy to our calendar.

The arrival of the Class 33 33202 solidified our diesel services, complemented by the completion of Class 14 D9504 and the arrival of the freshly repainted and overhauled Class 20 20087.

As we conclude the year, enhancements in data systems, radio technology and real time train tracking, and a heightened focus on financial oversight underscore our commitment to safety and operational excellence.

Looking ahead, 2024 promises to be monumental as we celebrate our 50th Anniversary. The joyous journey continues, and on January 2nd, 2024, we commemorate the 70th Anniversary of the last passenger train from Robertsbridge to Headcorn.

Wishing You a Merry Christmas and a Joyous New Year!

In closing, I extend my warmest wishes for a Christmas filled with joy and a New Year brimming with success. Each one of you has contributed to making 2023 an unforgettable year for KESR. Let's eagerly anticipate more achievements and memorable moments in the years to come. Let's carry the spirit of magic and dedication into the coming year. May the new year bring more opportunities for enchantment, success, and shared joy.

Wishing you a restful and joyful holiday season.


Robin Coombes

General Manager